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  • Writer's pictureBurton Kelso, Tech Expert

How to Spot Social Media Bots and Malicious Accounts

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

Social media plays a very important role in your life. It allows you to stay connected with friends and family. If you have a business, it allows you to connect with new people. Social media also provides you with a wide range of information that helps you make choices about the things important to your life. Because of this, there has been an increase in social media bots and fake accounts designed to spread fake news, sow distrust in organizations, and spread conspiracies. Recently, the FTC sent a report to Congress stating that the use of social media bots is a 'serious issue'. Malicious accounts and Social Media bots have gotten out of hand. Here are some tips to help you spot bots and fake accounts to help you get accurate information online:

I love movies and probably one of the best ways to simplify what bots are and how they work, is to make references to some pop culture 'bots'

What Is a Bot? Your standard social media bot is a program that uses AI (artificial intelligence) which makes it fully automated. These programs and social media accounts are designed to react like a person but are designed to help people, much like Wall-E the robot from the Pixar movie did. For 700 years, Wall-E carried out his daily task of waste allocation. Once created, these accounts have no human input in their daily operation and carry on conversations with you. For businesses, a bot is useful in the whole customer service experience such as suggesting the right product or service, suggesting articles to help the customer, even following up after the purchase to make sure the customer is satisfied.

What Are Malicious Social Media Bots and Fake Accounts? Malicious social media bots and fake accounts, also pose as human users but the purpose of these accounts is to manipulate public opinion on social media, spread fake news, increase polarization, sow distrust in institutions, and propel conspiracies. The best pop culture reference for a malicious social bot is Ash from 'Alien'. Ash looked human and definitely acted he had the best interest of the crew of the Nostromo, but he had his agenda which was to bring back the Alien at all costs ... even if it meant risking the lives of the crew. Malicious accounts work the same way either by creating fake accounts, friending people, and sharing posts that are designed to manipulate you and your opinions in the hopes that you share these with you friends on social media. Bots can also send out spam, steal your personal information and online

identity by hijacking your online accounts, and send out malware. Bots can also boost specific and hashtags and keywords as well a promote certain website link to promote their agenda. More recently people have used bots to boost their popularity online by increasing the number of clicks and to create fake product reviews. The creators of these bots come from a wide range of people such as radical groups on the fringe, foreign agencies, and political campaigns. Twitter is the most prominent social media platform for bots, but they are also on Facebook and Reddit.

How Can I Spot a Bot? That title would make a catchy song, but in all seriousness, there are some way that you can find out if an account is a bot or fake:

  • Look at the creation date of the social media account. The average social media account is 5 - 10 years old. If an account was created in the past few weeks, good chance it's a bot.

  • It appears that the account is always online and posting information. Unless the user is a zombie, there's no way someone is going to be online constantly.

  • There is a lot of information that been shared. Most people on social media are posting original content rather than sharing information. If you notice that an account is only resharing, it's probably a bot.

  • The account is constantly posting about the same content. Most people post about a variety of things online. If you see an account always staying on the same subject, it's probably a bot.

  • The account always uses the same set of hashtags. Like a normal social media account, people change up their hashtags. See the same set of hashtags on an account? Beware.

  • If you see an unusual user name such as an account with a long series of numbers.

  • You get a friend request from a friend you've already friended. We've all seen it. Someone claims their account has been hacked. Well, it's likely a bot has just created a duplicate social media account for you.

Remember the Golden Rule: Don’t Trust Information Just Because Someone Shared It.

Tools like Snopes ( and Fact Check ( can be used to spot fake news and posts. Also, use the following steps to get the right information.

  1. See which News Outlet Published the Article.

  2. Search to see if other News Outlets are sharing the same story.

  3. Don't just focus on the headline. Read the entire article.

  4. Verify when the article was first published.

Bots and fake social media accounts are one of the main tools used to spread fake news and misinformation. Make sure you're taking steps to make sure you're getting the correct information.

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