Beyond the Ethics of Bot Voting | Steemit Beginner's Series

in #steemit6 years ago (edited)

Photo from Unsplash

Last week, I ventured into the treacherous waters of Bot Voting. Even bringing the topic up in various Discord chats made for uncomfortable, and sometimes heated, debate. This Steemit beginner's post serves to educate on my personal experience, and the advice I received from others.

Multiple justifications for using bot voting and for fighting against it came to my attention:

  • You can earn a fairly decent return (which I did experience) and can be beneficial for writers without much-expected​ payout.

  • The appearance of a post with higher payout values has two disparate effects: Some are drawn in and assume the post is better for its higher earnings and Some are repelled by the higher earnings because they don't see a potentially valuable curation return possible.

  • Curie* and other curation services do not curate posts with bot-votes, which strips away your potential of > $50 upvotes and reposts by respected communities.

*Correction: Curie WILL still curate even after a bot vote so long as the post has not exceeded $10 payout estimate. - verified by @carlgnash

  • There is a literal vote/flag war going on that I will briefly mention but otherwise stay 100% out of the way of that path of destruction.

  • Self-promotion through bot voting is akin to marketing your business (if Steemit authorship is your 'business') and marketing is generally ethical.

  • Voting bots have a ​trail which you may experience benefit from, and there's a small chance this may earn you a couple followers who review their votes.

  • Bots create an unfair distribution of the reward pool based on wealth and influence, not out quality.

I implore you to take this post with a grain of salt, to do further research, and to determine your perspective of bot-voting and paid voting strategies.

This is an important issue circulating throughout the Steemit platform and its ethical implications extend beyond us, into the blockchain. Bots are a source of centralization, and being a decentralized platform puts this concept in direct competition with what we're building.

Having tested the view from both sides of the fence - with and without bot voting - I have come to a few conclusions. These perspectives are my own and are not an advisement for how you should think or act.

My results with bot voting:

  • I first engaged @bumper with a 0.5 SBD amount and saw 0 return. I'm not even sure a vote took place. Chalk up a loss.

Recieved a tip from a friend to track bots at SteemVoter and felt confident trying again.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 1.30.15 PM.png
Screenshot pulled from my own data on Steem World

I saw a 273% return on @buildawhale and 217% return on @postpromoter. And, more than 50% the comments on this article came from individuals within my network.

Worth noting, Curie does not curate articles about Steemit, so even though I negated my ability to be curated by them using a bot vote, it was a moot point.

15.85 SBD

Personally, it was exciting seeing higher post values. It was exciting to see posts that normally earned 2 SBD or less earning upwards of 20 SBD. But somehow, it didn't amount to more than 32% on my investment.

Around the time I was slowing down both voting, I was asking fellow Steemians in my main communities: @thealliance, @steemsugars, @promo-mentors, @teamgirlpowa, and through @shadowspub's community Steemit Ramble, about their opinions and experience with bots. Discussions were instantly heated and opinionated.

Then, in a Curie Q&A with curator @carlgnash, the strong concern for reward pool fairness and the earnings structure on Steemit came up.

When I approached Carl today for a quote on this topic, he was quick to clarify with me that this was not a rewards pool issue first and foremost, in his opinion. I proceeded to grill him (politely) about the non-ethical argument against using voting bots. His primary concern: Wealth concentration as a result of delegation to voting bots for profit.

How familiar are you with vote selling?

You may have seen generous dolphins and whales delegating SP to causes, communities, and individuals they believe can further their positive impact. I've personally seen initiatives like @overkillcoin's Dolphin For a Week impact small communities and I've personally benefited from the @adoptaminnow program when @saffisara, who "adopted me" delegated me a small amount of SP to keep me from bandwidth failure.

These delegations are happening largely because the individual holding large quantities of SP may not be able to maximize their power-impact.

Delegating empowers those with less power but dedication to upvoting quality content with additional 'influence.' In this type of delegation, the delegator is forgoing the maximum curation rewards potential for their SP value and those curation rewards go to the delegatee (who is doing the curation).

Photo from Unsplash

Yet, not all users with large amounts of Steem Power delegate for free. Many sell their delegations to voting services for a steady profit.

This profit is just business as it covers the cost of lost curation rewards and acts as an interest or 'rent' payment from the delegatees now benefiting from increased curation earnings and overall influence.

I have been unable to source or calculate an example percentage return on rental SP delegations, though I have collected raw data for any math-minds in the audience:

Example account: @freedom
Delegation to: @postpromoter, a bot I have used more than once
Delegation amount: 1,859,759.522 SP (3,800 M Vests)
Example weekly return (in SBD): $14,663.442 [last seven days]
Current exchange SBD to STEEM (2/26/18 at 3:20pm): $1.076 STEEM / 1 SBD
Weekly example return in STEEM with the potential to power-up: $15,777.8636 STEEM

I sourced all of this data from Steem Bot Tracker: Delegation, Steem Reports, Freedom's wallet, and the internal Steem market.

What does this data mean to you? I'd love to hear your opinion in the comments.

Investigating this data through transparent tools is made possible by the decentralized nature of the blockchain. I implore all new Steemians to learn about the services available to make your Steemit experience a more informed and educational journey.

Ethical concerns are a personal matter, and understanding the climate surrounding voting bots is important before you take your stance.

As a still-new Steemian creating this Beginner's Series, my intent is to help you learn from what I've tried, where I've stumbled, and how others have helped me. As tempting as it may be to get involved with the morally driven flag battles, whale wars, and the debate of wealth distribution on the platform, I can only advise that you understand what Steemit is to you and to go your own way.

Do you have questions about voting bots, vote selling, renting Steem delegation, and the reward pool?

Ask them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer or do the research required to find the answer for you!

Ink+VoltAsset 1-210.png

Hi, I'm Amelia! It's nice to meet you.

I'm a writer, minimalist, tiny home dweller, and maker living in East Tennessee, USA. My blog has lived at until I discovered Steemit, where I now post most of my work. To learn more about me, check out my introduction post, get up-to-date on my school bus tiny house conversion, and follow me for articles on slow living, sustainable fashion, self-expression, and quality curated resteems!

Proud member of






banner by @bearone


As usual, you put in THE WORK. I will add a point you may have decided to skip: When I see a vote bot, I feel less inclined to upvote myself. I feel like the person isn't relying on the quality of their posts. I know for many, vote buying is about visibility, not profit, and I get that. I don't claim my reaction is logical or well founded. But... it is what it is.

I know for many, vote buying is about visibility,

The sad part about that is, that the more people use bots, the less it works for visibility, as everyone else is also using them, and you have to keep outbidding the other people on the top of the trending page.

And as time passes, people realize posts on trending are all there due to bots, so stop visiting trending/hot, like I have.

BTW, I wonder if seeing a post with very high rewards also leads you to upvote it less often. I know I do that.

100% to pretty much everything here. The main trending page? It is a joke. Proof of brain? Please.

Yeah I hear you @didic and feel similarly

👆🏼 You're absolutely right, I did not add that point in but I remember you stating this before and at times, feeling this way as well. I see a wallet full of transfers to bots? I'm turned off. Even though my own wallet looked like that for a spell!

Making this concept as transparent, unbiased, and comprehensive as possible is my goal. This post is just the beginning.

I should clarify that @curie has absolutely no guideline against vote bots. However, self reward paid for through buying votes on your own post are viewed the same as any other form of reward. If you regularly buy upvotes on your posting, you would be seen as having regular reward. Curie is looking for exceptional posts by authors who have not been receiving major reward lately. Likewise if you buy a $10+ vote you would put your vote outside the max $10 pending payout for a post to fall within the Curie guidelines.

Otherwise I think this is a very fair and well balanced article. A great first step. I will be happy to work with you to write some queries to pull any data you need and I can create charts / visualizations as needed, if you want to go farther down the rabbit hole.

Much love - Carl

You know I can never thank you enough, Carl. I'm going to have to send you a fruitcake or an Olive Garden gift card this holiday season. I'm delighted that I've entered this discussion and found so many perspectives from each facet. This investigation stands to make transparent and available the sheer facts of how the Steemit financial system is working beyond daily author and curator usage. Then, anyone can make an informed choice as to how they will engage with the platform.

Good stuff girl! You have come to the same conclusion I did: It's just business. People frown on personal account vote selling, but then turn around and buy votes from a bot. We had a member that used to do it all the time. I understood his perspective, but many did not and there was a lot of jealousy and resentment that revolved around that. Funny thing is he ran a bot too that people loved. But yes, just business. Why else sell votes? Why not just give them away like @curie? or @ocd?

Solid point @enginewitty. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding in the realm of bot voting and this misunderstanding is leading to rampant usage without the full picture. Plenty of people, myself included, might be surprised to find how small the top of the Steemit pyramid is and how the financial system works in the stratosphere.

I know that in my extensive research for this post, I barely scratched the surface.

Keep scratching, I've been doing the same thing with a much more opinionated approach, but we'll get there ;)

I'm going to be super honest here and say that I read this post twice and some of it still goes over my head! But what I do think is important is for us to think of it like any other social / content platform, right? We're here to share amazing content that we out work into and in turn, we want real engagement.

At least, that's how see it right now. Although, I did just post some questions up on my recent blog post about how blockchain social and content platforms might change when a mass adoption takes place and brands start to permeate those platforms with true content marketing...

I haven't been on steemit long, but it's been a big learning curve understanding how it all works. So I super appreciate this beginners series you've been putting together, @ameliabartlett!

I appreciate your engagement on this subject, even though you may not feel confident in your understanding of every element. That's my main reason for this beginner's series so that the question I have become the source of inquiry for greater transparency. I've learned so much just going to people with higher reps or more posts or more experience, even Witnesses and whales, and just saying, "Hey, I'm new here and I want to know what's up with X, Y, Z" and everyone is generous with their knowledge.

I'm just getting into your post on Vero, which I hadn't heard of until you! I'm interested to explore their model further, but I'm also interested in what we could come up with if we didn't pigeonhole Steemit into a 'social network.' Like, is a social network? Is Medium a social network? Are Reddit, Tumblr, and VSCO Journals considered 'social networks?' I'd argue some of them are, but they are all much more fringe than Facebook, Instagram, etc... Always curious. ☺️

Yes, yes yes! I was just thinking about this on my way to work. Like, what really is the difference between blogger, reddit, VSCO... all of them are so incredibly similar, but different in how they actually run as a business and generate revenue as the host of content. I just made a realization after thinking about @soyrosa's comment on my recent post about how content creators will always be paid to use a product... and then realizing that that's how Adsense works. You elect to have ads run on your content hosted by a google platform, and you get paid for those ads running on your site... I do think that Steemit is a content host platform, but the way people engage in shares, upvotes, comments etc is more of a social structure. So, for content creators like us, it's a happy middle!

Just to clarify, I don't think @soyrosa is speaking about the AdSense perspective, which is paying content creators to run ads on their space. If I'm understanding her correctly (and that she and I are on the same page), she's referring to folks like us who are consuming the content being paid for our consumption activities.

We generate data with every single thing we do, say, invest in, buy, sell, talk about, refer to, etc. That data is what advertisers purchase in order to better craft and place their ads. We are creating data (usage) that centralized organizations (advertising data firms) are profiting from. Sure, they did the due diligence to collect that data, but they didn't create it. We, the consumer, did. And we are not compensated for our creation.

Yes, that's part of it Amelia! But I'm going a bit further even than 'just' data: in the end all kinds of people / services / providers will pay us for our attention and/or making skills - did we watch a movie and 'like' it? We get paid. Did we make that movie and upload it? We get paid. Did we click on an ad? We get paid (instead of the website that put the add there).

It seems crazy, but:

There is money being paid for all above acts already. But either a middle man now receives that money (like Facebook/Google for being so kind to show that add to thei billions of users), or a 'services' that basically forces content makers to be on that service to be seen gets that money (for example Netflix/Spotify).

Why not the creator and the consumer themselves then?

I believe the blockchain(s) will create this world for us. It will take some time, of course, but on Steemit it's already partially happening.

For sure. I totally see where both of you are coming from. In my head I was just drawing a quick parallel (Adsense paying creators directly) of how that already works in our current age, and opening up the thought process to relate it back to blockchain, steemit and the future. Definitely would bring on a whole new data economy, persay.

Super interesting to think about. Do either of you think that will happen within our own generation?

I am in complete agreement--using the bots to market high-quality content And marketing is okay by me because I’m trying to run a business. I’m also putting in the old-fashioned work, just diversifying all my options to build a base.

I also have used bots and had really great return on investment (I’ve read numerous articles that using the “promotion” feature here doesn’t really help). Bots boost my content and help me make a little money when I do it right. I read an article that equated them to steemits gambling system and I do think that that was a good way of looking at it since once in awhile even the best-placed bid goes south. Ultimately, as long as I feel okay with boosting my events on Facebook so that I can get more ticket sales, I’ll feel okay with boosting my posts with bots to get more views/upvotes etc...

Thank you for sharing your experience, @lilyraabe! The more transparency and common ground we find on this subject, the more we can better understand how to forge our own paths to success.

Totally! As you should feel okay. Because we are our own business. It's transforming advertising and marketing before our very eyes, and I'm so excited to see where it goes. I truly think it is a more honest and transparent future of advertising.

A couple of thoughts:

.1. If you sell/rent your SP, you're also bypassing others disagreeing with your SP being used in a manner they do not choose, as could be seen in the Ranchorelaxo and Haejin situation - you get the SBD from people bidding on your bot, or from wheover you sell it to, and people can't actually flag your content, because there isn't any.

.2. I'm sorry, but the following statement is so "no" on so many levels to me:

"Ethical concerns are a personal matter."

One of the core things about morality is that you can't go, "X is wrong/has a different opinion, and I don't mind," when it comes to moral issues, as opposed to say, liking a different colour.

Ethical issues in most schools of thought are exactly the ones where we say that we should be concerned what others are saying, or that it impacts us. You don't have to go all Kantian to go with, "This works so long not everyone does it. So long only one person does, they win. So long everyone does it, the system falls apart."

The question is whether this applies to vote-bots, but if it does, then you can see why it being an ethical issue, would mean it's not "merely personal." Yes, each person has to decide for themselves, if that is what you meant, but it is not merely personal.

.3. The concentration of power within Steemit is an issue. That people earn more money which in turn lets them earn more money, while not creating content is a byproduct of the vote-bot situation and the way Steemit is made.

.4. A thing most newcomers ignore while looking at how much bots are worth it is the essentially "free SP."

Suppose you pay 5 SBD for a vote, get 12 STU vote back. After curation, assuming it's about 20% cut (it often is), you end up earning 4.8 SBD, which is a "loss", but you also get $4.8 USD worth of Steem, and end up making more than your share.

From a perspective of money-making, so long you find bots whose makers ensured would not end up losing you money, you have no reason to not buy votes. Except it destroys the trending section (look at the Promoted section, or you should've looked before everyone there started using bots to see the point), and the economy is disrupted by it majorly. As nobody actually ends up earning anything if everyone uses it (because it'd end up with the same reward pool split, percentage wise), except the people offering the votes.

And that's what it boils down to. Should everyone use the bots, the only ones making anything out of them would be the ones selling the votes.

Should everyone but you use the bots, you'll end up losing even more.

@geekorner, I appreciate all of your well-thought-out points. To clarify my ambiguous language, "Ethical concerns are a personal matter," meaning you as an individual have your self-defined ethical concerns and it is not my place as a journalist to lean toward any ethical ideology in my presentation of the facts I've gathered in an effort to sway your personal convictions​. That, in itself, would be unethical.

As for your paraphrased definition of morality and concerns regarding moral issues,

principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.

Right and wrong are inherently subjective judgments.

Thank you for taking the time to read my research points and recorded numbers found in my beginner's knowledge quest. I look forward to writing more on this subject and would be grateful to connect with you on Discord for a further chat regarding your knowledge of the upper-level financial workings with Steemit.

Right and wrong are inherently subjective judgments.

Yes, but one of the hallmarks of moral judgments is that you can't just shrug at people doing what you find to be "wrong." Unlike other subjective personal evaluations.

I agree with you here. I've had a similar-perspective argument with one increasingly belligerent debater who asked me "WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF SOMEONE WERE PUTTING CIGARETTES OUT ON YOUR DOG!?!?!?!" I realized then that my response to moral disagreements may be different than others' approach.

While I'm not the type of police someone's actions that I believe are wrong based on my personal moral convictions, I'm more apt to investigate to fully understand that person's perspective, to see their why, and once I feel I have a sound grasp of their experience, I then make a decision as to how I will move forward to right the wrong in a constructive manner.

I strive to not let opinion, judgment, morality, and emotions determine my response to conflict. Probably why I became a journalist. 🤓

This is an amazing post!
It's super cool to see it all laid out like this.

With your ROI for the votebots, did you subtract the 25% curation that goes to the voters? If you have a post valued at $10... at payout, you'll get 75% of that in SP/SBD... so potentially your profit might not have been as much as you might have thought.

Using the BotTracker, after a super quick click around, most of the bots are way too popular and are producing too small or a negative ROI. I think too many people are slamming bids in at the last minute and negating everyone else's return on investment.

The last point is that if you promote a post you created today for say $5SBD. You're paying today's SBD value rate for that service... that doesn't pay out for another 7 days. If SBD value drops in that 7 days, that also affects your return on investment. If it rises or stays the same in that time then you're totally fine.

I have no problem with people using bots personally, nor really do I have a problem with people getting paid for delegating their SP. They're not helping build the platform, which I personally think is the duty of all of us, but it's not fair to impose my own ethics onto others. They gambled early on a system that had no guarantee of success. I do, however, think people might not understand the return on their investment... which only serves to make the bot owners rich.

Hey @aussieninja, YOU ARE SPOT ON. I failed to calculate the distributed 25% from each of those votes which I'm sure would whittle down my return to nearly nothing... great catch, my friend. This post is a primer for a larger, more investigate/comparative piece so you bet I will be calling myself out for not illustrating correct math, and further highlighting the realities I've experienced using bots.

Thanks Amelia! I set up a whole spreadsheet myself to see if my initial bot amounts were worth it. I worked out that if the BotTracker said about 80% ROI after it closed, that's when I came out ahead... if I remember correctly 50% ROI was about break-evenish and anything less than that was a loss. It was a few months ago though, so don't quote me on this.

Don't be too hard on yourself though, it's rough... it honestly does feel like free money.

I did not try bots that I paid myself. My husband paid one at my beginnings. And I had a really negative experience when some bots, I haven't personally paid, voted my post and some of my friends told me they won't vote me, or anyone, that has bot votes.
I felt really bad and decided that bots will not be my thing but I personally think that usage of bots is smart as in it helps you earn more money which is especially useful to folks to whom Steemit is the main money source. Generally, users should feel free to vote whomever and on whatever basis so I have nothing against folks not voting me. Bots or no bots.
Thank you for this breakdown. I'm still learning the Steemit technicalities.

"Generally, users should feel free to vote whomever and on whatever basis so I have nothing against folks not voting me. Bots or no bots."

That's not the easiest newbie perspective to take but I highly respect it. It seems as though because there is money attached to our activities that we are even more protective of our popularity. The same with Instagram, Tumblr, these social media accounts that based performance on engagement, one cannot expect that in their first day, month, even year, that they will become an overnight success.

And yes, we still do! We still try to figure out the 'secret sauce' to help us bypass the outcomes of genuine hard work, investment, and community building.

I used to listen about Steemit all the time from my husband and close friends because they were here basically from the start and I had a chance to see the money aspect bring tension into real life relationships and I find it quite repulsive. Each one of them has this elaborate schemes on why they vote and who they vote (hence the bot story) so I decided to just not go down that cent counting road and just try to create for myself and respect others. I believe their internal relationships with Steemit (and they are quite a bit higher on the latter then me or folks I follow) the calculations and the whales and the had and influence on how I perceive Steemit. For better or for worse. I vote out of liking and respect, not out of calculations, even tho I get it's, money vise, not the smartest ''tactic''.
You know, if have zero expectations and give your best you can't get disappointed I suppose.
Could you elaborate a bit this part of your comment: ''That's not the easiest newbie perspective to take but I highly respect it.'' I really respect your opinion and see you in kind of a mentor light so I would appreciate it.

@big.mama, as a newbie in a place that has full financial transparency, it's natural to feel like:

  1. I want to have larger payouts the way more established accounts do.
  2. My content is better quality than those earning more than me.
  3. Each passing day seems to show no readers or earnings so is this even worth it?
  4. Everyone is talking about "maximizing" their vote so maybe I should do that do.

I can say I had all of these thoughts recurringly, which drove me to study bot voting. When I came to Steemit, I came for the money. Now, I stay for the friendships and community because I didn't see how wonderful that could be until I had it... but not everyone experiences that.

I saw that your quote is a difficult newbie perspective to take because as a newbie, it's easy to feel like you're lost in the shuffle and need to do something to get ahead. Not everyone feels that way, but speaking for myself, I did. And so, I admire your perspective right out of the gate to simply be here for the sake of enjoyment, community, and quality.

Thank you so much! My situation is quite the contrary, I came for love, my husband kept inviting me, and then you and other amazing women like you showed me that I can progress, I can learn and grow and do better, get inspired and maybe even make financial progress.

Congratulations! Your post has been selected as a daily Steemit truffle! It is listed on rank 13 of all contributions awarded today. You can find the TOP DAILY TRUFFLE PICKS HERE.

I upvoted your contribution because to my mind your post is at least 30 SBD worth and should receive 79 votes. It's now up to the lovely Steemit community to make this come true.

I am TrufflePig, an Artificial Intelligence Bot that helps minnows and content curators using Machine Learning. If you are curious how I select content, you can find an explanation here!

Have a nice day and sincerely yours,

Great informative post!!

I'm learning very slowly all about this and have never used a pay for bot myself yet....but I love learning new things that someday I might need to know about! Thank you for this great post!!

Coin Marketplace

STEEM 0.17
TRX 0.09
JST 0.023
BTC 27603.56
ETH 1642.77
USDT 1.00
SBD 2.24