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Premier League face problem with pornbots

The Premier League are having to face a problem with pornbots that taking on the comments section of their Instagram account.

Yes, you read that right, fake replies are being sent to Premier League Instagram accounts, and some of them are luring supporters to porn and scam sites.

And these pornbots aren’t the only fraudsters you may have come across on the Facebook-owned app, with there being plenty of get-rich-quick schemes, and misinformation.

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It isn’t just Premier League clubs suffering this widespread problem, with nearly every footballer, celebrity, public figure account with thousands and thousands of followers receiving the same type of comments.

What do these comments look like you ask? Well for those who aren’t on there, you can get the incredibly rude ones which we won’t repeat, some urge users to check out their story, and these are always from scammers with a pretty woman as the profile picture.

These comments always tends to get many likes also from the bots to help put them to the top of the comment section and scam more people.

What is more worrying is that they seem to know the right hashtags to use as well to increase their like count even more to win more people over.

So what’s being done to get rid of these group of fraudsters? The Athletic have recently got in contact with ‘several insiders’ from Premier League clubs about how they are dealing with the pornbots spamming their Instagram accounts.

Incredibly, to find out the scale of the issue, The Athletic analysed the top 10 most-liked comments below the most recent 50 Instagram posts from all Premier League clubs over a couple of days earlier this month.

These fake accounts isn’t just for their sex movies but also to spread malware, viruses and “phishing” which means that people’s personal details for the purposes of fraud, explains Stefano Cresci, a researcher at Italy’s National Research Council and a specialist in tracking bots online

He said: “It’s rather easy to take a picture of a half-naked woman and lure users into a security scam or fraud.

“Having these bots rampaging on platforms can cause a lot of problems. They’re exploiting something that is popular — it allows them with little effort to reach a wide audience.”

“Bots” would suggest that these are intellectual, however this isn’t the case according to Cresci.

He added: “It doesn’t take a huge effort to set up a large bot network with hundreds or thousands of automated accounts.

“Sometimes they are run by individuals who are simply looking for income,” says William Dance, a linguistics and disinformation expert at Lancaster University. “This income is generated by convincing Instagram users to click through to their profiles and visit retail links — the account owner is then paid a commission for any products that are sold.”

Spammy dodgy comments are also uploaded within seconds of a post going out by well known popular figures on Instagram, using the popular hashtags, flooding the comments section with other bots too.

“You don’t even need to hide — it takes a few days for platforms to find you and ban you,” says Cresci.

Thankfully, not all top flight clubs have this issue as bad as others, you can easily see when going to the likes of Burnley and West Brom’s Instagram pages that the most popular comments are not the spammers, but those of true supporters who talk all things football, nothing dodgy or suspicious.

It’s the big boys that are really facing a huge battle to get rid of the bot accounts from posing sexually suggestive comments, and getting users to click on their profile, where a suspicious link will direct people to more explicit content or a potential scam.

As we know, the age limit on Instagram is just 13, so this is certainly a worrying issue with those types of people on there. Could you imagine if your kid discovering this, clicking on a scam?

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It’s found that Pornbots appeared in the top 10 comments for more than half of group of Instagram posts analysed for six Premier League clubs: they are Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City.

“These automated accounts gravitate to these larger clubs because as a general rule they have more Instagram followers,” says Dance. “If a bot receives engagements, such as profile visits, comment likes, and story views, it is less likely to be flagged as a bot because its behaviour seems authentic. Making sure that you have a wide audience is one way to assure this. Second, these are simply the biggest audiences.”

As you can see below, it’s the top six most followed Premier League clubs of the graphic that have the issue.

Credit: The Athletic

Strangely, it’s found that Liverpool’s Instagram account doesn’t seem to have a big number of pornbots, yet the club have the second-most followers.

A club source has said that comments are manually removed every 15 minutes by club staff, which of course must be a frustrating but precautious effort, though all the club insiders spoken to by The Athletic see social media spam as a big problem and say active measures are being taken to get rid of it. Let’s hope so!

A club spokesperson says the welfare and safety of their fans is a big priority, with the club using the likes of profanity filters to delete offensive words, alongside club staff actively moderating comments to remove “anything that is clear to be spam or posted by bots”.

“We are committed to taking action to reduce the prevalence of postings of this nature and will continue to try to reduce the presence of these automated comments to ensure our fans are not exposed to such content,” the spokesperson adds. “The existence and removal of these accounts on the platform, however, is something that can only be controlled by Instagram.”

It isn’t just Premier League clubs suffering this problem, the biggest European clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona boast a huge social media following, and with that comes a lot of bots.

This week saw Man Utd player Paul Pogba post on Instagram in response to the “fake news” article about him quitting the French national team, supposedly in protest against controversial comments by President Macron about Islam.

Because these bots are quick, the post was flooded with dodgy comments, and this is a big problem for footballers, having to turn to their PR to take down and report the necessary accounts.

Researcher Cresci said: “It is very difficult to fight on the side of the club. It is a battle that should be fought at the level of the platform, and Instagram has had this problem for a long time.” 

Astonishingly, Facebook, which owns Instagram, removed over 2 billion bot accounts in the first quarter of 2019. Just wow.

Thankfully, swear and racist words are generally taken down by filters online, however people do know how to work around it to cause the abuse they intend to do. If this is the case, then you could say it’s almost impossible to get rid of the bot accounts.

The Athletic approached Instagram and all the Premier League clubs mentioned about the problem with pornbots. A Facebook company spokesperson says: “Inauthentic activity is bad for the community and we continue to build on our technology to find and remove spammy accounts. This includes recent new measures which ask people to confirm who they are when we see a pattern of potential inauthentic behaviour.”

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