Social Media Bots Explained: Malicious Accounts and How to Spot Them

The term “social media bot” is no longer associated only with chatbots or AI customer service. On the contrary, social media bots have a much more indecent reputation today due to erroneous information campaigns.

But what exactly are these malicious social bots? How do you see the different types? And are there tools that can help you classify real accounts of fakes? This is what you need to know …

What are malicious social media bots?

While there are different types of bots on social media platforms, we will focus on malicious political and malware bots. These bots differ from customer service bots or other automated accounts. For example, some bots like Deep Question Bot are meant to be a fun tool for Twitter users. Meanwhile, robots like the Thread Reader application convert Twitter threads into a text page.

However, malicious social media robots and fake accounts pose as human users. Its objective is to manipulate public opinion in social networks

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spread false news, increase polarization, sow distrust in institutions, spread government propaganda and boost conspiracies.

According to the Academic Society, the intention makes malicious robots different from other automated accounts.

in contrast, are designed for the purpose of damage. They operate on social networks with a false identity. Malicious bots include spam, theft of personal data and identities
the dissemination of erroneous information and noise during discussions, the infiltration of companies and the dissemination of malware, “says the organization in its 2018 guide on issue.

Bots achieve this by driving certain hashtags and keywords, deploying targeted harassment and sharing certain links and articles.

According to a 2017 University of Oxford work document entitled “Computational Propaganda Worldwide: Executive Summary “, the people behind these bots range from small marginal groups to large political campaigns and governments.

Twitter is the most notorious platform that deals with social media bots, but these malicious bots also exist on Facebook, Reddit, Weibo and other smaller networks.

Do malicious bots support specific policies?

While these bots were used remarkably In the US elections of 2016 and in the period before the Brexit referendum, they are not just goals on the side of the political spectrum.

An article published in Nature, entitled “The dissemination of low credibility content by social bots,” found that a common denominator found among many malicious bots is to share low credibility content — such as fake news and misinformation. This misinformation points to different sides of the political spectrum.

“Successful sources of low credibility in the United States, including those at both ends of the political spectrum, are supported by social bots,” the document says. “Since the first demonstrations discovered in 2010, we have seen that influential bots affect online debates about vaccination policies and actively participate in political campaigns.”

While bots as a whole are not partisan, usually individual bot accounts will be maintained with a type from the point of view to promote (as an anti-scientific view).

Different types of malicious social bots

When it comes to fake social media accounts aimed at amplifying political opinions and sharing wrong information, there are some different types . This depends on your level of automation and your main objectives.

We take a look at the different bots and explain each type …

Standard / complete bots

A standard social media bot is a fully automated account. These accounts have no human contributions in their daily publications and operations. On the contrary, they rely on algorithms and scripts to guide their publications.

These bots amplify the content (retweet bots) or respond to the content with certain keywords or hashtags (response bots).

Malware Bots

Malware bots are another type of fully automated malicious bot. However, instead of focusing on the wrong information, its objective is to compromise the security of the users of social networks. These accounts often focus on clickbait content, sometimes posing as an existing content editor, to try to redirect users to a malicious website.


A cyborg is a partially automated or hybrid account. The proportion of bots to humans in a specific cyborg account varies, but automation must be significant (rather than an occasional automated publication).

These accounts use human information to help hide the fact that they are bots. Human input can help guide responses, perform selective harassment or add more human behavior.

Cyborgs are not the same as human users who can use programmers like TweetDeck for their publications. Cyborgs are false accounts that impersonate a real person, with the aim of distributing information to achieve a particular goal or for targeted trolling.

How to detect social media bots

Social media bots are increasingly difficult to identify as their algorithms become more sophisticated. For example, it was often easy to distinguish a bot account from a real account due to the lack of original posts, just by sharing other posts or adding hashtags to existing posts. However, more and more bots can post original content and responses.

According to the Digital Forensic Investigation Laboratory of the Atlantic Council, political bots share three characteristics in all types.

“Many of these bot and cyborg accounts do fit a recognizable pattern: activity, amplification, anonymity. An anonymous account that is inhumanly active and obsessively amplifies a point of view is likely to be a political bot, rather than a human, “says the lab in an article on how to detect social media bots.

These traits are Some of the main warning signs that an account is probably a bot.

Some other signs that a social media account is actually a malicious bot or cyborg include:

  • A recent account creation date
  • The account shows a shared exchange and an amplification of publications between a small network of accounts
  • Unrealistic response times to others, indicating that the account is almost always online
  • Low quality comments with limited and repetitive vocabulary
  • Usernames with long random sequences [19659041] Stolen profile images of real people or “patr” profile images Ethics “(such as flags, weapons, political symbols)
  • A large volume of content retweeted and shared, with limited original publications
  • Limited focus on content outside a predefined set of hashtags and themes.

Real people tend to tweet about multiple topics, including more mundane publications, such as how their day is going. Nor do they publish 24 hours a day in massive volumes.

4 tools for finding social media bots

Since it is increasingly difficult to distinguish human bots from social networks, researchers and analysts have launched a series of tools to better analyze accounts.

None of these tools are infallible. However, along with other types of observations, these tools can definitely help users better determine the probability that an account is a bot or a cyborg.

These tools focus on Twitter, where malicious bots are possibly the most prolific.

1) Botometer

Formerly called BotOrNot, Botometer is a tool created by a team from the University of Indiana. The tool uses an algorithm to determine the probability of automating an account.

With Botometer, you can not only verify a Twitter account, but also the bot ratings of the followers of an account. Since bots often work within a network, amplifying messages with each other, this is a useful feature.

2. is a browser extension that analyzes Twitter accounts to determine if they are propaganda bots. The company’s website also includes an analysis tool.

The tool considers factors such as frequency of publication, retweets and polarization language.

A large part of the tool is the ability to report if BotCheck has incorrectly categorized an account. [19659015] 3. Account analysis

 Argutron account analysis application

Account analysis is another tool that allows you to analyze the activity of Twitter public accounts. Created by data analyst Luca Hammer, the tool provides insightful metrics and visualizations for account activity.

This helps you identify bot accounts that other tools might have been lost. For example, in a test of a known bot account, several tools were unable to identify the bot (due to its focus on posting tweets, lack of hashtags and no retweets). However, the daily rhythm of the account’s publications (all day, every day) and the interface used by the account (the Cheap Bots platform, Done Quick!) Confirm that the account is, in fact, a bot.

So, while Account Analysis does not assign a bot rating, it is still a useful tool for identifying bot accounts.

4. Social Bearing

 twitter analysis tool with social support

Social Bearing also provides a summary of statistics related to Twitter public accounts, similar to account analysis. This summary includes the frequency of tweets, retweets, responses, language feelings and more.

An overview of these statistics is incredibly useful for deciding if an account can be a bot. Best of all, the tool is free and does not require you to log in with Twitter.

Don’t trust just because someone shared it

While bots are an important tool in spreading false information and fake news, you should also be careful about the information you consume outside social networks. After all, people also share and retweet fake news.

To increase your defenses against misinformation, see our guide on how to avoid fake news

\How to uickly avoid fake news during a crisis that develo

How to quickly avoid false news during a crisis that develops

The next time there is a crisis, do not fall into exaggerations. Cut social scams and lies to find the truth with these tips.

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