In its most rudimentary form, a spambot is a programme used to spread across various avenues of the internet. It can be in the form of an email, or as is the case with Twitter, in the form of a fake or stolen profile that spreads malicious comments.
Hackers and spammers have used spambots to spread malicious links, attack and harass people on the internet, malign campaigns, and in some cases, interfere in governance by swinging elections.
Spambots have also led to legitimate accounts being hacked, which have been used to spread misinformation. Spambots represent everything wrong and everything that can go wrong with social media and the Internet.
Why is Elon Musk going after Spambots?
Given how big a proponent Elon Musk is for cryptocurrencies, it would seem natural that he is going after spambots. Across Twitter, there are several fake accounts used by spambots to scam people who have just started exploring cryptocurrencies. Some of these spambots operate in such sophisticated manners that even people who are conversant in tech have fallen victim to them.
Musk, in an interview, once said that if he had a dogecoin for every spambot and crypto scam he had come across, he would have at least a 100 billion Dogecoin portfolio.
How do Spambots work?
Spambots, especially on Twitter, usually comment on tweets of legitimate and active Twitter users who have a decent following. Several spambots are also made to appear like original accounts of certain celebrities. These spam comments link malicious websites that can launch phishing attacks and steal vital login information. They also spread realistic-looking fake websites where unsuspecting users are made for sharing their bank or wallet details.
On Twitter, various spambots imitate legitimate NFT traders and crypto enthusiasts. When these spambots tweet out a malicious link asking their unsuspecting followers to buy a certain NFT or invest in specific crypto, most followers mistakenly think that the natural human user is using his secondary account to tweet and trust. Elon Musk’s followers have fallen victim to several such scams.
How to recognise a Spambot?
A very rudimentarily designed spambot will use wrong spellings, especially for names. Their tweets will also not be grammatically sound and will use some odd tone that the natural human user usually doesn’t use. Their timeline will also be filled with links to suspicious websites. However, a more sophisticated spambot will take all this into account and will be very sneaky. It is essential to check for the verified profile mark or the blue tick next to a username. Also, if a user has very few followers, has a very obvious pseudonym, and is very active about sharing links and commenting on other tweets, there is a good chance that the profile is that of a spambot.
How do Spambots compromise real human users?
Spambots compromise real human users in several ways. They help scammers cheat unsuspecting people, but it also delegitimises legitimate internet activism and movement. Just think of the scepticism specific internet-based systems have had to face because of the highly unusual number of spam associated with it.
Spambots and spam comments all mess up the SEO results of legitimate websites. Most search engines reward a webpage if its links have been shared on several social media platforms. This is a core element of black hat SEO and although most search engines have a policy against such practices, implementing them in real life is a task.
Spambots that have been designed with malicious intent often spread fake news and, at times, can also generate such information. This has led to elections being swayed and real people being harmed. However, the most common use of spambots is to lead people to suspicious websites and files that can then launch phishing attacks on a user’s system and infect them with malicious files and viruses.
What challenges does Elon Musk face in his fight against spambots?
Twitter has been dealing with Spambots for some time now but to no natural effect. Although Elon Musk has said he will be “fighting spambots to death,” it is easier said than done. Musk hasn’t shared a plan on how he plans to take on bots.
Secondly, Musk also intends to make Twitter’s algorithms public. This is directly antithetical to fighting bad bots because bootmakers or programmers use Twitter’s algorithms and safety systems to create programmes that can avoid detection.
And then, there is the problem of machine learning. Programmers have started making very sophisticated spambots that can evolve, create multiple, very realistic looking accounts, and work very secretively, thus avoiding detection.
The final problem is Musk himself and his online behaviour. Musk is a massive troll, and more often than not, his sarcastic tweets do not come across as such, especially to his followers. This makes it very easy for spambots to emulate his online activities and fool people.
But then, let’s not forget, this is the same man who made driving and owning EVs as practical and more economical as ICE automobiles. If there’s someone who can take on spambots and get rid of them for us, it has to be Elon Musk.