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95 million accounts on Instagram could be bots: study

Instagram could have about 95 million bots posing as real accounts out of its billion users according to a research conducted by research firm Ghost Data for The Information. Which means, about 9.5% users of Instagram could be just bots. There has been an increase in the number of bots when compared to an identical research done by Ghost Data in 2015 which showed that 7.9% of the accounts were bots. According to The Information, other researches have found similar results as well using different methodology.

What are bots?

Bots are accounts controlled by computers instead of people. A lot of social media platforms use bots to collect data or to answer repetitive questions, but bots are also used to run social media accounts posing as real people, these accounts are capable of looking extremely real and can function as one very easily as they require no human labour and very less server time. These accounts are often bought by celebrities and politicians to appear more popular or get more endorsement deals.

Why is this a problem?

Bots are a huge problem for the platforms, its users, advertisers and even governments because:

  1. They are ideal mediums to spread fake news and misinformation
  2. Advertisers can end up paying a lot of money for bots which are posing as real accounts

Russia used bots when it tried to influence US voters during the 2016 Presidential elections. Though bots themselves might not be responsible for generating misinformation, but they sure amplify its reach. Though Instagram has not seen any such scandal till date, but researchers state that it’s more vulnerable due to its emphasis on visuals which get the message across very conveniently and get viral easily.

Majority of social media platforms have been affected by bots. A study by Portland Communications found out that Twitter bots are playing a major role in African elections since 2017, as reported by Bloomberg. Snapchat faced a major issue of bots spamming users with nude photos in 2014. Viewbots have been prevalent in YouTube since 2009. Facebook estimated that it has about 2%-3% “undesirable accounts” on its platform in 2017.

Instagram recently crossed the billion mark and has come to being identified as a billion dollar separate entity than its owner Facebook. Marketers are willing to pay large amounts to place ads in front of these potential consumers. Presence of a large number of bots can affect the amount to pay Instagram. This can also lead to an advertisers spending more money on advertisements to pay companies which differentiate real companies from bots. Juniper research estimated that fraud or automated accounts might cost the advertisement industry about $44 billion in 2018, as reported by Forbes.

What have the platforms done?

The Information reported that Facebook said “it has 10,000 people working on safety and security, including looking for bots and other types of bad behaviour. It plans to hire another 10,000 over the next year. It said it also uses machine-learning techniques to find fake accounts.”

Twitter recently pushed out 70 million accounts from its platform which it suspected to be fake or automated which had shown up in a lot of celebrities having fewer followers.

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