Swedish group rises against wave of porn bots flooding social networks

  23 January 2018    Read: 465
Swedish group rises against wave of porn bots flooding social networks

Neither porn moves nor spam are anything new. Over the years, both have been a recurrent phenomenon on social platforms, not least on Twitter. However, January saw a seemingly endless avalanche of porn bots that made even seasoned users cringe.

To counter the swarm of porn-bots inundating Twitter with pictures of scantily clad young women in salacious poses, a group of self-motivated Swedes have started a task force to stop the porn explosion.

In addition to posting suggestive pics, the bots' new strategy reportedly involved interaction with users, primarily by following them and liking their posts. To map out the porn storm and eventually try to halt it, a group of researchers, journalists and network activists joined forces in a project called Botjakten ("Bot hunt").

"We have analyzed it from here and there and tried to find out what type of links and hashtags the bots are spreading to understand where they try to drive traffic, and it has turned out that it's almost exclusively about pornographic sites," Christopher Kullenberg, one of the people behind Botjakten, told Swedish national broadcaster SVT.

​At present, the group has received 4,800 porn bot tips via the public. In addition, they have identified another 9,000 bots after studying their Twitter profiles. The fake profiles often appear as belonging to young women, whose profile images are easily dressed. A recurring avatar represents a blue-haired woman, seemingly stolen from a Canadian porn show. Remarkably, many of the bots seem to have registered on Twitter several years ago, with a particular cluster around 2011.

​"The great storm we saw last week seems to have quieted down somewhat. There are fewer bots and the active ones are less frequent. It's hard to say what it's all about. Either someone was testing a system that might be used at a later stage, or someone saw a chance to earn some money," Kullenberg ventured.

​In Finland, which was also targeted by the botnetwork, suspicions were raised by blogger Andy Patel that botnets were used to follow politicians in order to harm the political debate before the upcoming elections on January 28.

Whether the enormous amount of fake profiles that has emerged in the last week could be used to influence political events in Sweden in the future, such as the general election in September, is hard to say, Botjakten activists argued, citing the lack of reliable data on who is behind the swarm.

"Bots used to earn money today can be rented out in the future and used to influence the community debate, specific issues or simply to disseminate disinformation. So far, we haven't found anything that supports this, but nor have we found anything that counters it," Kullenberg said.

​Although Kullenberg called the bot swarm "pretty harmless" as it was mostly dealing with pornography and advertising, he argued that it nevertheless needed a full mapping out in order to understand its methods and goals.

​"Perhaps Basshunter will get a revival with Boten Anna?" a user tweeted ironically, referring to a 00s hit by the Swedish artist.


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