Buying Friends And Influence Online

Whoevebotsr said, “Money can’t buy you friends,” clearly hasn’t been on the Internet recently. Today its possible to buy 4,000 new followers on Twitter for about $5 (about Rs 300). You can also pick up about 4,000 friends on Facebook for the same amount and, for a few dollars more, have half of them like a photo or post you share on the site.

If you are willing to shell out $3,700, you could have made 10 lakh—yes, that many—new friends on Instagram. For an extra $40, 10,000 of them will like one of your photos.

Retweets. Likes. Favorites. Comments. Upvotes. Page views. You name it; they’re for sale on websites such as Swenzy, Fiverr and countless others.

Many of these  friends live in India, Bangladesh, Romania and Russia—and they are not exactly human. They are bots, or lines of code. But they are built to behave like people on social media sites.

Bots have been around for years and they used to be easy to spot. They had random photos for avatars (often of a sultry woman), used computer-generated names (like Jen934107), and shared utter drivel (mostly links to pornography sites). But today’s bots, to better camouflage their identity, have real-sounding names. They keep human hours, stopping activity during the middle of the night and pick up again in the morning. They share photos, laugh out loud—LOL—and even engage in conversations with one another. And there are millions of them. These imaginary citizens of the Internet have the power,to make celebrities, wannabe celebrities and companies seem more popular than they really are, swaying public opinion about culture and products and, in some instances, influencing political agendas.

There are a number of ways to build bots. One of the most popular bot management tools is a program called Zeus, which sells for $700 and offers a simple dashboard from which you can control your bot army.The program is also used for more nefarious purposes, like identity theft.

More advanced programmers build bot farms from scratch. Bots often carry the hashtags—online road signs for a particular discussion—of viewpoints that their owners actually oppose, to confuse people or muffle or redirect discussions. During the 2012 presidential elections in Mexico, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was accused of using bots to drown out opposing parties’ messages on Twitter and Facebook. The PRI is to said have employed a little trickery, parsing and twisting language enough to confuse people about what the opposition really meant to say online. In Syria, a number of bot groups have cursed, browbeaten and threatened anyone tweeting favourably about protests or opposition leaders. In Turkey, where Twitter was briefly banned not long ago, an investigation found that every political party was controlling bots that were trying to force topics to become trends on social sites that favoured one political ideal over another. The bots would use a political group’s slogan as a hashtag to fool people into believing it was more popular than it really was.

 “Simon Z” operates Swenzy, which he says is based in the United States. It sells followers, likes, downloads, views and comments on social sites. According to him, his company is using artificial intelligence and other digital manoeuvres to stay ahead of the bot hunters at big Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, which spend plenty of time trying to scrub bots from their sites. It works sometimes—at least for a while. Before Twitter’s public stock offering, the company scrubbed millions of bots. Over the years, Google has removed billions of video views on YouTube attributed to bots. There’s an evolutionary process at work where companies have built better spam filters, which has led to better bots. Simon Z’s bots act like people by acquiring information from real users, including avatars, pictures and other conversations. With all these tricks, they appear to emulate human behaviour. He  now operates 100,000 very advanced bots that are active on numerous networks. When buyers make significant orders of bots, he can go to “underground suppliers” who operate larger bot farms. It is not illegal to own or make them; it’s about how people use them. Their use often goes against sites’ terms of service.

Simon Z’s clients include celebrities, musicians and politicians who want to seem more popular than they really are. Governments also use his bots.This is all about power and control, the same thing it’s always been, but now it’s digital and you can do a lot more of it. 

For now, these bots are simply deceptive, tricking people into thinking something is popular or pushing an agenda. But as bots become more sophisticated,they could become nastier. In March, two students at the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, created a swarm of bots that caused a phoney traffic jam on Waze, the navigation software owned by Google. The project, a class demonstration, was so sophisticated that the students were able to make bots that imitated Android phones that accessed fake GPS signals and were operated by fake humans in fake cars. The Waze software, believing that the bots were on the road, started to redirect actual traffic even though there was no traffic jam to avoid. So be careful which bots you befriend. If it’s a bot with a different political viewpoint, your virtual buddy may turn on you. Or even try to get you lost. 

About Keerthika Singaravel

3 Responses to Buying Friends And Influence Online

  1. Pingback: YouTube Views | wealthymatters

  2. Very interesting! Thanks for opening my eyes. Things aren’t always as they appear!!

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