If there’s one thing that everyone has an opinion about online, it’s bots. They are everywhere, greeting and walking you through web pages and sending you memes in group chats. But some bots will spam your email with junk mail and crash your favorite website when your break begins.
Bots are just a tool that can be used equally for good and evil depending on the intent of their creator. But what are bots and how do you know which bots are bad?
What are bots?
The word bot has always been associated with physical robots thanks to science fiction. But most bots are not made of metal and wire. They are computer software.
Bots are autonomous or semi-autonomous computer programs or scripts that can perform repetitive tasks automatically without the need for their creator to intervene. They either interact with users online to guide them and answer their questions, or work in the background, mostly undetected.
Because they’re made of code, bots can perform simple tasks much faster and more efficiently than human users. Not to mention, bots don’t get tired. As long as the server they are running on is up and running and connected to the internet, they will continue to function.
Overall, bots are neutral. They are simply tools that can be programmed to do whatever you want over and over again. But since what they do is the only difference, it is used to categorize bots into good and bad bots.
What’s a good bot?
As the name suggests, good bots are internet bots that do no harm to their owner or users, or offer any benefit and value. For example, good bots offer great 24/7 customer support. Depending on the level of training, they can quickly answer user and customer questions at any time of the day.
This way, they can take some of the workload off the customer support staff and let them work on more complex cases.
Another example of good bots are those made in Discord and Twitch chat rooms for fun, to moderate users, send out memes, and even archive some messages. Chat services that allow pre-built or bespoke bots in their services to gain an edge over the competition as users tend to implement a variety of bots in their chat rooms.
What’s a bad bot?
Bad bots are internet bots that are created with malicious intent. The damage they could do goes as far as the imagination. Bots can create fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to spam users and businesses with negative or inappropriate comments, and even spread fake news.
They could also be used to target individual users directly by spamming comments to them or sending offensive messages containing phishing schemes and harassment.
Spam and malicious bots are a common problem on almost all social media platforms. Not only do they create an awkward environment for the actual users, but they can also skew and distort the interaction statistics.
Bots are the reason that almost all mainstream websites and social media platforms use some form of CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test, to differentiate between computers and people. They are used to block bots and prevent them from creating accounts.
You may even have had to solve a CAPTCHA, especially if you’ve commented on or shared a lot of posts recently.
Unintentionally bad bots
Sometimes bot creators have honest intentions when creating their bots. But poor coding skills and ignorance of how the internet works could lead them to build bots that inadvertently harm others.
One example is the use of bots for web scraping. It’s completely legal and can be incredibly useful for budding data scientists and people who develop software or AI and need the data to train them.
When scraping bots start collecting data at high rates from a single website, they could inadvertently trigger a Denial of Service (DoS) attack in which they overload and crash the website’s servers, making them available to others Become inaccessible to users.
This harms not only the human users trying to access the website, but also the website owners. The crash could cause them to lose revenue and place them in a false positive state of believing that their website is under a legitimate DoS or Distributed DoS (DDoS) attack.
Explore the world of good bots
The world of internet bots is limitless. Whether you need to create a customer service chatbot for your business or a group chat moderator for your Discord or Slack group chat, there are easy and difficult ways to do it.
Internet bots are made up of scripts. They are bits of code that interact with the digital environment. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a programming genius to build your own bot.
Many free and paid tools allow you to create chatbots without writing a single line of code. For example programs like MobileMonkey and BotKit provide you with ready-to-use templates for your chatbots. Note, however, that the more programming skills you have, the more control you have over your creation.
Avoid accidentally creating bad bots
Whether it’s web scraping, crypto mining, automated social media posting, or chat monitoring, there is always room for inadvertent mistakes. Start by going through the code, whether you wrote it or downloaded it as a prepackaged script. It is important to have a general understanding of what your bot is capable of before posting it online.
If possible, start it in a local or controlled environment. Start off with a small group chat with just a few friends who know they’re testing your bot. Maybe you’re scraping open source websites so as not to overload the servers if your bot hasn’t been properly calibrated.
Bots don’t go away anytime soon
Whether you’re looking forward to a future full of bots and automation, or dreading the idea of fake users and CAPTCHAs everywhere, bots – good and bad – are here to stay. Expect to find bots in everyday apps like search engines and social media helpers and as bad bots out to spam your website or email.
Anyway, the more you know about bots, how they’re made, and how they work, the better prepared you’ll be for a future with them.
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