“Congratulations, you’re a winner!”
“Did you know this public figure is trying to make your life worse? Click here for what they don’t want you to know.”
“Save thousands today with just one click!”
Spam and bot accounts on social media are everywhere. You’ve likely encountered messages like these that attempt to get you to click on links or to stir your emotions in a frenzy. While bot accounts are usually more of an annoyance than anything, when they’re allowed to run rampant, they can quickly become dangerous to your personally identifiable information (PII) and create an emotionally charged mob mentality.
Here’s what you should know about bot accounts, including how to steer clear of menacing ones, plus a reminder to watch what you share on (and with) social media sites.
What Are Bot Accounts?
Bot accounts are software-automated accounts that try to blend in and act like a real user. They post updates and follow other users, though there isn’t a real person behind the account. A spam account is a type of bot account that attempts to gain financially from its automated posts. Everyday people should be wary of social media bot accounts because they can be used to disseminate false information or phishing scams.
One whistleblower of a social media giant recently divulged that the platform isn’t prioritizing deactivating bot accounts.1 This apathy sparks concerns about the company’s commitment to the security of its users. In the whistleblower’s same report, he stated that the social media site isn’t taking the necessary steps to protect itself from potential inside threats and it had fallen victim to at least 20 breaches in 2020 without reporting the incidents to the proper authorities.
How to Spot and Steer Clear of Bot Accounts
Some bot accounts aren’t malicious (merely an annoying tactic by companies to spread the word about their business), but it’s best to give all of them a wide berth and never click on any links in their posts. Those links could direct to unsecured outside sites laden with malware or drop you in the middle of a phishing scheme.
You can often spot a malicious bot account by the tone of its messages. They’ll often try to inspire intense emotions, such as excitement, sadness, or rage, and attempt to get users to act or share the post. Do not engage with them, not even to argue their points. When you engage or share these posts with your network, it spreads false information and could dangerously manipulate public opinion.2
3 Tips to Enjoy Social Media Safely
Here are a few ways you can take your cybersecurity into your own hands when you can’t be sure that social media sites are looking out for the safety of users’ information:
- Don’t overshare. We all have an oversharer amongst our friends whose constant life updates rule our newsfeeds. Oversharing personal details and events can be more than annoying though. They can also put the oversharer’s PII at risk. Social engineering is a tactic where cybercriminals learn enough about you online to either impersonate you or personalize phishing attacks to your passions to capitalize upon your emotions. To combat social engineering, you may want to set your account to private so strangers can’t lurk and glean valuable personal details. Also, deny follower or friend requests from people you don’t know in real life. It could be a bot account in disguise. Another option: don’t overshare! Keep some mystery about your life and save them for in-person gatherings.
- Don’t divulge non-essential personal details with social media sites. When you set up a social media profile, the site usually requests several crucial pieces of PII, but they aren’t marked as required fields. These details include your full birthday (including the year), your full name, and your hometown. Consider only sharing your birthday month and day. Keep your birth year to yourself. That way, your followers can still wish you a happy birthday, but you frustrate phishers and dark web crawlers who are seeking your full birthdate.
- Don’t spread false information. To combat bots, the best thing to do is to not engage with them, or better yet, label them as spam or suspicious. From there, hopefully the social media site can handle the situation. False information can spread like wildfire. Even if a bot’s post is laughably inaccurate, do not share it with your followers. It only takes one follower to believe it and then spread it to their own audience and so on.
Trust a Comprehensive Security Solution to Watch Out for You
You can’t trust every company to look out for the safety of your personal information, but one organization you can trust is McAfee. McAfee Total Protection is a comprehensive identity and privacy protection solution for your digital life. Great social media habits go a long way toward keeping you safe online, and you can rest assured knowing that McAfee can fill in the gaps. McAfee Total Protection offers antivirus, identity monitoring, and security freeze in the case your information is leaked in a breach or a bot account gets ahold of key details.
Keep on sharing your life’s milestones with your closest friends and family online. The next time you update your status, flag any suspicious accounts you come across, so everyone can enjoy social media confidently!
1NBC News, “Twitter whistleblower alleges major security issues”
2Journal of Information Technology & Politics, “Harass, mislead & polarize: An analysis of Twitter political bots’ tactics in targeting the immigration debate before the 2018 U.S. midterm election”