There are a lot of personages floating around social media sites, a disconcertingly significant number of them with no more life or substance than a discarded shell whose hermit crab tenant abandoned it a long time ago. These "bots" are used to help athletes and celebrities bolster their Twitter accounts, or trick lonely people into thinking that the great grandniece of the long-lost Princess Anastasia wants to be friends with them on Facebook (8.7 percent of Facebook's entire user population, btw, is composed entirely of such bots). More often than not, these bots feature pictures of women, and though the bots themselves aren't real, the women in the profile pictures are, a fact that spurred Jason Feifer of Fast Company to try and figure out who these women are and how some marketing bot appropriated their likeness.
Feifer is painfully aware of how stalkerish his quest is even before the first phone call he makes to a bike shop owner and possible distant friend of a Twitter bot woman. He's not even sure what he's doing beyond just sleuthing around for a link between a bot and a real, live human, and he certainly doesn't know what will happen if he ever finds that link.
This is a mostly pointless exercise, I knew: The story behind every photo would be different. And what would one of these women say—that she's flattered to find her face spamming everyone on Twitter? Clearly, no.
Bots, though, are becoming a more common presence on sites like Twitter because they're cheap to both create and purchase. According to Feifer, companies like Buy Real Marketing sell bots in packages of 1,000 for $17 to 25,000 for $247. Nobody admits to it (obviously), but a publicist Feifer spoke to said that bots are really popular among athletes looking to raise their profile, and, in the case of large companies, purchasing bots is about as risk-free a marketing ploy as one can imagine. There isn't any way to figure out if someone purchased bots or if they just accumulated bots by accident, but bot profiles like those that Feifer was combing through are pretty easy to spot because they usually have "a long digital tail, having been posted on dozens of sketchy porn sites or blogs devoted to the barely legal."
Eventually, Feifer tracks down a woman named Amanda whose 2009 SUNshine Girls calendar photo was used on a bot profile. Feifer calls her boss (accidentally revealing Amanda's stint as a SUNshine Girl), and finally makes a connection with a real person. That's it, though. After admitting that having her SUNshine Girls photo — which, so far as Feifer could tell, had been used for at least a few different bot profiles — circulating the internet was pretty creepy, the best solution Feifer can offer her is to "report the bot as spam, and hope for the best."
In the meantime, Twitter will be playing hot potato with a picture of lingerie-clad Amanda, and there's not a whole lot she can do about it except think of the internet as a big, occasionally wonderful, occasionally horrifying amusement park, where personal information gets lost as easily as a sandal on an inverted roller coaster.
Who's That Woman In The Twitter Bot Profile? [Fast Company]
Image via BestPhotoStudio/Shutterstock.