The Weasel Report: Delicious Spam Posts

in curation •  9 months ago

Last week I wrote about some of the biggest posters on Steemit and I observed that some of these accounts were spam bots that were automatically generating posts or comments in order to earn rewards.

What I didn't think about at that time was the sheer number of accounts involved. While there are certainly some major abusers of the platform who make hundreds of posts per day, there are also many smaller abusive accounts. These accounts might post 10-20 times a day, and only earn a few dollars. Individually these accounts aren't making a lot of money, but by putting together the earnings on hundreds of bot accounts, some spammers are making big money.

What's a bot account?

Since my first post, I've involved myself in a lot of community discussions and I've had a lot of people asking me about bots. Bots accounts are just like any other SteemIt account. A bot can do anything that a human user can do, including upvoting, flagging, commenting, posting, and managing a wallet. The only difference is that a bot is doing all of this automatically based on some code, whereas a human is doing it themselves.

Spam bots are bots that are specifically created to make a profit for their owners, usually by posting a lot of content/comments/upvotes automatically. Since there is no human running the account, these bots often rely on automatically stealing content from elsewhere on the internet, or repeating similar posts/comments over and over again.

Can't we detect and stop spam bots?

From a blockchain perspective, bots look identical to humans. A bot is just another account interacting with the platform. It's very difficult to automatically differentiate between bots and non-bots.

There are some security measures that can be used to slow down bots, such as adding captchas and requiring phone numbers / identification to validate accounts, however the more security that gets added to a platform, the more impact this will have on the experience of legitimate users. Also, bot designers are notorious for finding ways of circumventing security measures. They'll generate fake phone numbers, use AI learning algorithms or paid services to solve captchas, and so on.

Sadly, no automated security measure is going to prevent all bots, and even major social media platforms continue to struggle with spam and fake accounts on a daily basis.

Why don't we ban bots?

Beyond the fact that we can't tell what's a bot and what's a human, it should be noted that not all bots are bad. Whether or not a bot is good or bad largely depends on how its creator designed it and how they're using it. Some bots run contests, some bots help newbies, some bots like @cheetah fight against spam and stolen content:

Why don't we ban non-SteemIt code?

SteemIt is the biggest, but there's countless tools that have been developed for the Steem blockchain. Banning everyone except SteemIt from developing blockchain tools would really hurt Steem's value and it goes against the whole principle of cryptocurrencies (decentralization).

How bad is the spam?

That's anyone's guess. I'm curious as well, and once I get access to a SQL database I intend to do a bit more digging into the numbers. I had been using SteemSQL to look for this sort of data, but it moved to a paid model recently. While I support what they do, I'm not ready to fork out 10SBD to get access at this time, as I'm still a poor minnow and that's a large chunk of my current account value. There's various other databases for SteemIt and I'm hoping to find a new one to work with soon.

Bot spam is the easiest to detect because it's tends to follow certain repetitive patterns that can sometimes be identified and traced to similar accounts. However, bots aren't the only ones producing spam. Everyday users of the SteemIt platform are also guilty of creating spam, by posting low-quality content, stealing other peoples' work, and using copy-pasted comments. There's also a lot of ambiguity in terms of defining exactly what constitutes spam. If I comment "Nice post" on something, is that spam? What if I say it three times? Ten times? Fifty times?

Spam is a massive grey area. What's spam? What's not spam? It's a subjective judgment call, and my definition of spam might not match yours.

When I look over random posts in the "new" category, I'd say that about 10%-20% of them are spammy. Most of these aren't bot generated content, but they're users who have clearly not put much effort into their posts and are either using stolen content, or something like a single photo with a caption. Comments are even worse, often with more than 50% of comments on low-payout posts being generic comments like "Nice post", "I upvoted plz follow" or other comments that really don't contribute value to the platform.

It's a growing problem, and it's likely to stay a problem for quite some time as SteemIt experiences more growing pains. The best we can do is to continue to upvote quality content from new users, downvote junk, and stick with the platform to see where it goes.


Thanks for reading,

-Matt

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I think you are doing great work for the community looking into this matters. I am only starting to see how much spam is created and I probably should see more. Post like yours are educating me in how to recognise them.

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Thanks! Glad it was helpful!

There's a team called @steemcleaners who are doing an awesome job of identifying and downvoting spam posts. If you're not already familiar with them, you should check out their work. They also have an abuse reporting form here where you can report spam posts and have the accounts creating them notified of the infraction. It's handy for larger SP accounts where you might fear retaliatory downvotes for doing the dirty work personally. SteemCleaners also rewards you with a small amount of SP when you make your reports.

Also check out my reply to jhonysins in the comments of this post for a good laugh.

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Ah yes I see. I would have taken him seriously and feel good about the compliment. But I see how he is not reacting to your post and you went looking in his replies and found out he is copying himself. Very funny a good example! What a coincidence :)

@weaselhouse
Interesting post, do you know if the bots here are running from personal computers or servers?

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There's a number of bot programs listed on SteemTools and they're fairly small and simple programs that I would generally expect to see running on personal computers.

Most bot users only appear to have a handful of accounts, and bots are limited by SteemIt's bandwidth restrictions, which prevents them from spamming nonstop - Usually there's a few minutes between posts. Because of that I think you'd be looking at pretty low requirements in terms of processing power even if someone was running 100 bots.

There is evidence that some users might be running thousands of bots which might require more than one computer. More likely they would run a program that loops through their various accounts, logging in to one, using its voting power/bandwidth, then moving on to the next one and so on.

I think it's unlikely that anyone is running a large server dedicated exclusively to SteemIt bots, although it is possible.

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I don't know much about bots, so I am just trying to get a correct overview, thanks for the long and detailed reply. It is kind of crazy.

Adsactly Bravo, Bravo!! Your post are really Mewtacular!. It inspires me to be a better me. I am learning so
much not only from the information on your post, but also about presentation and design. Thank you!

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@jhonysins - Bravo, Bravo!! You've earned yourself a downvote!! Mewtacular!!

You did not read my post, you copy-paste spammed a comment and contributed to the exact type of platform abuse that I'm fighting to stop. Congratulations!