Bots in the Service of Politicians: How Ukrainian Deputies Buy Love for Money

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The other day unexpectedly the fact was revealed that Petro Poroshenko in his “off-duty time” is active on social networks under fake accounts. And a little earlier Evgeny Deydey was caught using of bots to accumulate popularity of the posts of the People’s Deputy. “Vesti” found out who from the politicians exploit fake pages on social networks, how, and how much is costs.

The finest hour of Deydey

Unlike Poroshenko, the People’s Deputy Evgeny Deydey doesn’t hide behind the accounts of others, but actively uses them. After the rather strange wound he received on July 14th in Avdeevka (The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine officially stated that there wasn’t any shelling on that day in that region), users noticed that the quantity of “likes” under his fresh posts on “Facebook” sharply increased — by 1,000–2,000 under each post. Although already in May the average number of reactions fluctuated between 600–800, and in April in general they seldom exceeded 300 “likes”.

This pushed observers to think of a way to cheat “likes”. When they checked, it turned out that only 20–30 “hearts” and “thumbs up” were from real people, the other “likes” were from a certain Jack Offermen, Ali Abdel-Meguid and, Fco Javier Castillón Lanau, and similar kind of persons who on their pages don’t have even any photos.

As experts told us, such accounts, as a rule, belong to bots — nonexistent characters who operate for money. Other signs of a bot — the absence of friends (as a rule, they have no more than 5-20), a blank profile, and an empty page (at most 1-2 reposts). “A more advanced version of the bot — an account with a model-like girl as an avatar (it turns out the photo is stolen), which actively adds itself as a friend to public people. In their profile they state some bank or even state institutions as a work place,” said the social media manager Sergey Petrenko to us.

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Bot-breeding in a Deputy way

We also looked at the pages of other Ukrainian politicians, the posts of which gather from 1000 likes. For example, every one of such users gives 20-30 likes on the pages of Arsen Avakov and Semen Semenchenko. And Mikheil Saakashvili (the leader in followers on Ukrainian “Facebook” — 937,000) – practically every tenth person [bot – ed] who presses the “like” button has an “empty page”.

We will note that the posts of the no less odious politician Anton Gerashchenko on average gather 300–400 likes, while popular leaders of opinions Mikhail Chaplyga and Yury Romanenko have an average quantity of “likes” of about 200-300. The vast majority of reactions on their pages are from real people.

Everybody observed the “likes” cheat on the pages of politicians in February, 2016. Then, as “Vesti” wrote, the innovation on “Facebook” — the replacement of the standard avaricious “like” with the reactions “haha”, “sad”, “angry”, “wow” — in a literal sense broke the “likes” cheat for Arsen Avakov and People’s Deputies Sergey Leshchenko and Vitaly Chepinoga. While programmers recustomized bots, instead of the usual one and a half thousand approvals the posts of politicians “for some reason” gathered at most 200-300.

Specialists in promotion on social networks say that most politicians order “likes” at a special “market” (their services are widely advertized on the Internet, “likes” cheats on “Facebook”“Instagram”, and on “Twitter”), and they are clicked by living people, but from fake of pages.

“There are many services that herd bots for behavioural factors — for ‘likes’, reposts, adding as friends. For small money people do any actions. In most cases especially created fake pages are used for this purpose. Of course, there are also special programs for cheating, but not many people use them — robots of social networks are immediately blocked. Thus, of course, it is impossible to claim that everywhere where there are a lot of ‘likes’, it was obtained by cheating. Some bloggers already have many admirers,” explained the Kharkov specialist in social media Aleksey Ponomar to “Vesti”.

Also experts say that all top politicians practically have social media specialists who do the cheating. “Some write their posts themselves, some have pages that are maintained by specially trained people. It is they who resort to various techniques — free or paid advertizing (in particular, as advertizing, also even the posts of Petro Poroshenko are sometimes published). Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between a page of a bot and an original one. It is called ‘an account for public posting’. I.e. a plausible fake is created, people living in Kiev or, for example, those sympathetic towards some movement are added as a friend. And then through this page news is targetedly spread or used for comments of ‘likes. The cost of ‘likes’ under a post — 15–20 kopeks, a comment — from 50 kopeks to 1 hryvnia,” said anonymity to “Vesti” one of the Kiev specialists in promotion on social networks.

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To cheat about 100 participants, about 500 UAH is taken. “To say that it is expensive is relative. In some months a page can be made popular, and real people will begin to come and subscribe to it. It is important for people who just became known and are afraid ‘to be lost’ among their namesakes.

It is also possible to order the writing of comments under posts. But this service is more expensive — for this purpose there is a need for many accounts, plus they have to look maximally real. After all, the probability that someone will verify them is high,” said the expert on cheating Vladislav.

Ratings are cheated in the click-farms of China

Bots are actively used, as a rule, also abroad for commercial promotion. For example, the other day in the Amazon online store in one day the book Dragon Soul from a little-known author flew up from 350,000th place to the first positions, coming close to the leader of sales – the book “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” of JK Rowling. The readers who believed the rating remained disappointed: allegedly, “the cover attracted, but all this appeared to be a swindle”.

As it became known, the rating was cheated by means of the Chinese click-farms (in the photo). At first the book was listed in the Kindle Unlimited section (free download for owners of Kindle e-book readers), while after having cheated a rating by means of bots, it was placed in the paid section, thereby having forced readers to believe that in front of them is a best-seller.

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