I worry aBOT it.

During the end of 2019, and start of 2020 I got tagged as a bot on social media. Twitter was the most aggressive.

Every 20 minutes I would get my account restricted, and I’d had to do automated Turing Test so many times during a day that I started to wonder if I was human.

As a bot developer and a bot researcher, I deploy, explore and administer a lot of bots. This is of course, a reason to monitor or survey my IP address. However, changing it’s traceability did not do anything to change this fact. It was account dependant.

This all started a few months before the US election so my theory is that many social media outlets did what they could to prevent and root out desinformation bots. There are plenty of them.

Jenna6984666 became John Jones, architect.

Back in the day, desinformation bots hid under the guise of porn. A random porn star name and a number combination was a way to identify these monstrosities. It was easy to trace them because they usually came from a single point of reference, and were a part of some form of organised single attack.

(Image example from article about life cycle of a porn bot )

But with time, the operations became more sophisticated, more refined, harder to detect. The bots became moms, dads, architects. People with names, personalities, followings. Even source locations and data infrastructure changed, and has become harder to distinguish from human activity.

Some bots stop tweeting at night, to seem more human to the algorithm. Their creators have thought of everything. Some, even take lunch breaks.

The Indiana University Observatory on social media has a great collection of tools to detect, explore or gather data on these type of bots.

How to recognise a bot

Bots are 90% dumb, and 10% clever enough to make you act dumb. If you’re in an argument that’s going nowhere on social media, especially with a conspiracy theorist, you can be sure that there is a very big chance it is a bot. 13–20% of all conspiracy theory accounts, are bots.

Try any of these steps to see if it is a human:

  1. Give them a math problem
  2. Ask them to finish one of your sentences
  3. Write a sentence backwards

This is not a fool proof plan, but it’s worked very well for me.

Being an Augmentedrobot is not fun, but somebody has to do it

Nothing in my own account activity would signal bot. I had 1,9k followers, and I followed 1,5k. I didn’t spam, I didn’t link too much and I posted original content frequently (i.e. not retweets or mentions). I tried changing name to something without BOT in my name, it didn’t help, it was too late.

I was still tagged as one. Shadow banned, excluded, repressed, suppressed, excluded.

The only place online that didn’t make life hard for me was facebook, and it is because I am a Facebook developer. I have more control over that venue.

So I made a very hard decision. I deleted my already severed, bruised account and euthanised it. In hopes to be reborn. And the plan was to wait 30 days and reclaim it as a new one. Fresh….from an administrative point of view.

If you went missing in real life, your friends would call the police, you’d hope

The downside was, I lost all of my contacts, the upside is, I haven’t had to identify a single traffic light for weeks.

My kid once asked me what the differences between a “digital” friend and a “real” friend are. I didn’t see the need to make a distinction, human relations are complex, and digital relationships are just as meaningful. But if I had to make one distinction, it would be that you could disappear from a digital sphere for years and it’s very unlikely that your digital friends would call the police. You’d hope that your “away from key” friends, would.

But, the digital world lives on, and thankfully you can find people again.

It does scare the sh#%t out of me

With more of our hardware, software and identity being connected to our social media accounts, being tagged as bot can lead to a lot of discrimination and loneliness.

One of the reasons I haven’t bought an Oculus Quest 2 is because I waited for the “hacks”. Many developers I know have lost the ability to fully use their Quest 2's, simply because they were locked out of their facebook accounts, suspected of being bots.

In the future, when more and more identification is digital, being tagged as a bot can have dire consequences. I am lucky enough to have social media as a means of trivial information. An activist might need it to stay alive, as their only resource for information spread and/or retrieval.

For me the friends that I lost, I can look up again. For someone who is alone and restricted by means of mental or physical disability, their account can literally be their entire world.

I often think of Mats Steen. Mats was an amazing person with a rare genetic disease which left him severely disabled. He passed away a few years ago. But what his parents thought was a hobby, turned out to be so much more.

His persona in World of Warcraft was beloved and in that world he was granted the freedom to be able bodied and to gain clout for his skills. He inspired people from all over the world and gained true friends. Very few knew he was severely disabled. The full story can be read here. But what if his account would have been locked, taken away, or restricted?

Algorithms and companies have a grip on our social lives, now more than ever.

It’s worth thinking and worrying about.

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