If you spend any time reading YouTube comments, you’re likely to have noticed a certain pattern. Along with childish insults and questionable viewpoints, there exists quite a bit of repetition.
The repetition primarily occurs around topics such as how to find a date, how to find a job, and how to invest money for maximum returns. Most of these comments are the work of YouTube spambots.
So how exactly does a YouTube spambot work, and more importantly, what do they want?
What Is a YouTube Spambot?
A YouTube spambot is a computer program designed to create spam comments on YouTube videos.
Some bots consist of nothing more than a Python script. Others are easy-to-use software products that allow anyone to create spam comments.
Some bots can only make comments, while more sophisticated bots can also create new accounts and personas.
Why Are Spambots Created?
YouTube spambots are designed to make money for their owner. This is typically achieved by redirecting traffic from YouTube to a website that the owner has a relationship with. Spambots can be highly profitable.
Even moderately successful YouTube videos can amass millions of views. If a bot can even capture a small percentage of that traffic, it will make money.
How Do Spambots Make Money?
Spambots are used for many different purposes. They are often used to promote scams because criminals cannot use more legitimate promotion techniques.
Here are five of the most popular uses for YouTube spambots.
1. Advertising Other Videos
The most obvious use of a bot is to advertise other YouTube channels. This can be achieved by making all kinds of claims, many of which are false. Any video that’s being promoted in this way usually isn’t worth watching.
2. Promoting Affiliate Offers and Links
Bots are often used to spread affiliate links. When somebody clicks on the link and performs the desired action, the bot’s creator gets a commission.
Adult websites, in particular, are often promoted in this way. But any website that has an affiliate program can be involved.
3. Promoting Malicious Websites
Bots are often used to send people to malicious websites. This includes shopping scams, malware websites, and phishing pages.
Phishing pages are designed to look legitimate, but they are actually traps used to steal personal information and passwords.
4. Promoting Investment Scams
Investment scams are often promoted using spambots. This is usually achieved by programming multiple bots to talk to each other. For example, one bot might ask for investment advice, and then another will recommend a particular investment advisor complete with contact details.
These conversations are usually very easy to spot. But a successful investment scam is so profitable that even a single victim makes the ploy worthwhile.
Bots are also used to advertise other questionable services, such as hackers for hire.
5. Influencing Public Opinion
Some people believe that bots are used for political purposes. This is based on the idea that people are more likely to believe something if they think that other people hold the same view. With enough bots, you could therefore influence public opinion.
Political bots could also be designed to look identical to real users because they wouldn’t have to promote anything.
What Is YouTube Doing About the Spambot Problem?
If you look at the number of bots on YouTube, it’s easy to believe that the problem is being ignored. The reality, however, is that bots are virtually impossible to stop completely.
The more anti-spam techniques are employed, the harder it is for legitimate users to leave comments. And whenever a bot is correctly identified and banned, its owner can quickly replace it.
This creates a situation where YouTube can ban endless bots, and the problem never goes away.
How to Stop YouTube Spambots Yourself
YouTube’s primary solution to bots is to encourage users to report them.
If you own a YouTube channel, bots are particularly problematic.
Spam comments can discourage real users from commenting. If you get enough of them, they may even harm the reputation of your videos.
If you have your own channel, you can stop a lot of spambots from the Community page, which is in your YouTube Studio, under Settings.
Here you can choose between automated and default filters.
One of the automated filters allows you to block any comment that includes a link. This alone will remove most bots as it blocks anyone trying to advertise anything.
There’s also a blocked word list. This allows you to create a list of words that will cause any comment to be blocked automatically.
You can also opt to block all comments until you approve them. This is obviously highly effective at preventing bots, but it’s not only time-consuming, it prevents real-time discussion among viewers.
If all else fails, YouTube allows you to turn comments off altogether. This obviously isn’t recommended as it’s typically only used by people with questionable videos.
If you watch videos on YouTube, there’s very little that you can do about bots except ignore them.
If you notice a particularly harmful spam comment, you can report it. To do this, click on the dots next to the comment, select Report, and provide a reason for its removal.
Unfortunately, most bot accounts won’t be blocked until multiple people report them. This is largely unavoidable as it prevents abuse.
The Price of Anonymous Free Speech
Spambots are more than just irritating. Many are designed to cause real harm to those who interact with them. Unfortunately, spambots are the price of keeping YouTube open to everyone.
If you want the ability to leave comments without uploading your ID, it’s pretty much impossible to stop spam bot owners from doing the same thing.
The only real solution is for users to know that they exist and be very suspicious of any comment attempting to influence their behavior. If something is being promoted with YouTube comments, it’s not worth visiting.
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