Bot Networks Are False Advertising

Bots that are posing as human are immoral and illegal. While upcoming legislation about to be enacted in CA this summer will make this clearer, and I have also made the argument that bots pretending to be human are breaking existing computer abuse and fraud acts, I believe there is an ever clearer case to be brought against bots and those who use them.

False advertising.

False advertising is the use of false, misleading, or unproven information to advertise products to consumers. The advertising frequently does not disclose its source.

Bots that suggest they are real humans through photos of real or generated humans are labelling an algorithm as a human. This kind of labelling is clear cut false advertising, especially if it has been paid for. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a product or Politicians they are pushing or attacking, the humans that have knowledge of or support these bot networks are guilty of a crime.

Is this a big problem? Well, right now most of the focus is on ‘click fraud’, bots pretending to be human to manipulate the costs of online advertising, and as these statistics make clear, the online ad industry is a mess of bad actors and in a crisis.

But you will find little online about the more dangerous game being paid, of spreading information and brands through fake humans on social networks. Why not? Because those ad folks screaming about bot click fraud are desperate for better use of their ad dollars, and using social influencers, even those driven by false bot armies, seem to be a reasonable answer.

But using tools to coordinate bot networks isn’t some cool new way to advertise. It’s fraud.

Is a picture or description, that suggests you are human, implying you are human in systems like Facebook and Twitter? Of course it is. When you open an account and upload a photo and description, it appears in the same location as a bot’s false information does. If you are human, and if you are reading this you likely are, then by definition those systems are built to suggest human presence through their user interface and experience.

And is a post by a bot on Twitter or Facebook an ad? Well, if people paid for the act of promotion, and it captures attention, it’s a walking and talking duck in my book.

If we had an actual operational FTC that enforced our laws, this is the kind of fraud they should be targeting.

Like many, I have turned off my Facebook and keep Twitter on only to post this blog. I consider both these organizations to be acting in bad faith, propagating clear fraud for their own profits. If you have knowledge of false advertising or computer fraud and do nothing, you are complicit in conspiracy to commit that crime.

Image above of more traditional false advertising from 1946 cigarette ad.

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